I’ve noticed that when some friends are feeling very stressed, they’ll post on Facebook that they need people to send cute pictures of kittens and puppies.  With the Coronavirus creating a high level of stress everywhere, this is an opportunity for your shop to be the equivalent of a basket of kittens to those going stir-crazy trying to avoid crowds. 

It’s understandable that the Chicago Housewares (Inspired Home) Show was cancelled due to the virus – they were expecting some 56,000 visitors from over 40 countries. But an independent retail store doesn’t pose a big risk, because the number of customers we see most days is limited, allowing for an adequate amount of personal space.

How can you make this space an oasis of calm and welcome?  A friendly greeting, an offer of water or refreshments, and quiet music will help set the mood.  Make sure your staff feels OK about customers just browsing, getting some needed relief from the stress of the news. Stay active on social media, reminding people about the enjoyable experience that awaits in your store, and letting them know about exciting new products that have just arrived. Maintain a sense of normalcy for your customer base, and at the same time reach out to potential new customers taking staycations instead of traveling.

Should you address the Coronavirus specifically?  I would suggest having tissues and antibacterial hand sanitizer available for your customers (as well as your staff, of course).  But it isn’t necessary to point out that you’ve taken extra precautions unless you feel your customers will have special concerns.  Magic Beans, a locally-owned New England toy and baby gear store, recently sent out a well-worded email stating “We are removing all open toys that are used for demonstration in our stores, as well as scooters, train tables, and other play items. We are also wiping down all strollers and car seats with disinfectant wipes between every consultation and stroller test drive.”  

It is essential that we keep our staff healthy during this epidemic, especially given the general shortage of retail workers. The lack of paid sick leave is an issue for many of our employees, which can result in individuals coming to work even when they have symptoms of the virus.  Paid sick leave is potentially a huge cost for small businesses – especially during a period when sales may decline. We’ve decided to institute a temporary policy for our entire staff offering to cover their hours if they suspect they have Covid-19 symptoms such as a cough, fever and breathing difficulties.

We have a good supply of soap in both our customer and employee bathroom, and are paying extra attention to wiping down surfaces such as phones, keyboards, cash registers and calculators with disinfectant.  These precautions make good sense, and allow us to feel more relaxed as we face this crisis together with the rest of the country.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder